Container Gardening For Dummies: Unique Ideas & Tips

Container gardening is a good way to have a spot of color in the house or on the deck or patio.

Plants add beauty to our homes, help bring us back to nature, and build appreciation for this spectacular planet. Container gardening is a good way to have a spot of color in the house or on the deck or patio.

Keeping something green or blooming on patios, balconies, and decks is often a challenge, though.

The impatiens plant you bring home from the nursery blooms beautifully on your east-facing patio. As soon as you move it to a west-facing patio, though, it becomes fried history.

The challenge is easier to meet, then, if you know whether your garden spot faces north, south, east, or west and choose plants that thrive in that exposure.


Is it coming from the north, south, east or west?

A northern exposure produces the lowest light intensity. Although it is bright in the morning, there is never any direct sun on your plants. Shade-loving plants such as begonias, caladiums, ferns, elephant ears, and diffenbachias do well in northern light.

An eastern exposure produces some direct sun in the morning, but overall light is gentle. Move your begonias to an eastern exposure and add impatiens, alamandas, coleus and possibly petunias for more color.

A southern exposure has light that is bright and long-lasting in the summer and direct in the winter. Try hibiscus, marigolds, petunias, and geraniums for color. Blooming plants love a southern exposure. Even small evergreen shrubs do well in southern light. Again, remember that patios facing south get full sun in the winter.

Western sun is harsh and hot. You can move your hibiscus and geraniums to your western patio or balcony. Your ficus tree will love a summer of western light if it is watered several times a week. All plants take more water in western heat and light. If you want a container garden for tomatoes or peppers, western exposure is a must.

Of course, shade affects light and must be considered, too. A covered or tree-shaded patio should be home to northern exposure plants for best results. If you are a real novice, buy from a nursery with educated employees and rely on their advice.


Since you’re only filling a few pots (not the Grand Canyon), it is beneficial to buy organic potting soil. You do get what you pay for, even in dirt. A huge bag of “top soil” for $1.49 will not be in the best interests of container plants.

The manager probably digs it up behind the store for that price. Damp potting soil should crumble in your fingers for best growing results. Again, make certain it is chemical free. I notice many potting soils have chemicals added.


The first law of container gardening is to choose containers with drainage holes.

If you have a beautiful, decorative pot, by all means use it. First put your plant in a smaller pot with drainage holes. Place the small pot inside your decorative container.

Most experienced container gardeners also cover the drainage holes with rocks or pieces of broken clay pots–not broken concrete. This keeps the dirt from washing out the drainage holes when you water the plant.

Place the plant in a saucer to use less water.


Most plants like to be watered until water runs through the container. The saucer catches the water and holds it for the plant to absorb. The soil of most plants should then be allowed to dry out before the plant is watered again.

I have recently traded the wind of Dallas-Fort Worth in Texas for the cold of the north. Wind is a challenge for container gardeners. Outdoor plants need more water because wind is drying. In an area like Dallas or Chicago, they need an abundance of water to counteract the abundance of wind.

Plants also take more water in heat, of course. and light, also.

Still, remember this, people who kill plants often do it with kindness–from overwatering, particularly if the container doesn’t drain.


I only fertilize my plants during the normal growing season and then with a organic fertilizer, of course.


Remember to bring tropical plants (most houseplants are tropical) inside well before temperatures drops to freezing next fall. Or plan to start over each spring with new seeds or cuttings.

All of the above information will help you keep indoor plants green and growing, too. Very few plants bloom well when kept indoors indefinitely.

Our Best Advice

Best advice to novice and experienced container gardeners: find a nursery with an educated salesperson and ask questions both before and after you buy plants.

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